• Mark Ledbetter

A Star is Born!

Wise Men, A Star, and Gifts for a King, Matthew 2:1-18

While serving as pastor, my wife, Rhonda, “volunteered” to direct a children’s Christmas musical. “O My Stars…It’s Christmas,” is the delightful story of Andro, a young star who is dismissed from a heavenly chorus because of singing off-key. Feeling rejected and unloved, Andro believes he has no gift worthy of serving the Lord. To his surprise, he is appointed the 'Star of Bethlehem,' enabling him to witness the birth of Jesus, God's Son.

The local school agreed to allow children participating in the musical to be dropped-off at the church and the afternoon was filled with rehearsal and set designing until the night of the event. While it was an endeavor filled with hard work, both Rhonda and the kids reaped the accolades of approving parents and community.

The Star indeed played a vital role in the Christmas Story capturing the imaginations of children, astrologers, and theologians. Just what this star?

The Star of Bethlehem

“Wise Men,” following a “star”, guided by night on a journey would have taken at least 40 days or more. After a visit with King Herod in Jerusalem revealed a more exact location to the destination of their journey, the Wise Men continued on their journey and found the One they sought in Bethlehem. They returned home after presenting gifts appropriate for a King,

As the passage reveals, the visit of the Wise Men not only troubled the inhabitants of Jerusalem, it also presents questions that astrologists, astronomers, and theologians have pondered for centuries. Who were these Wise Men and where did they come from? What was the nature of the “star”? Why was Jerusalem troubled? What is the significance of their visit to Bethlehem?

Who were these wise men and where did they come from?

A more distant memory of Christmas is seeing my father, Charlie Ledbetter, and two other men singing “We Three Kings.” Tradition tells us there were three wise men but there is nothing found in Scripture to substantiate the number. Perhaps the tradition sprang from the number of gifts presented to the Baby Messiah, Jesus – Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Traveling could become treacherous, not just because of the terrain, but marauding bandits were more than willing to take their treasures. They more than likely traveled in a caravan and there could have been three or more arriving in Jerusalem.

We are given a clue as to their origin. They were described as “magi from the east.” In Scripture “the east” represented Babylon/Persia, which gives us a clue to the length of their trip of at least 40 days. Because they were following a “star” they traveled by night.

They are described as “magi”,[1] which suggest they were members of a Persian priestly caste, but more than likely in this setting the term represents “wise man and priest, who was expert in astrology, interpretation of dreams and various other secret arts.”[2] Daniel refers to them as “magicians” and groups them with “wise men, conjurers, and diviners.”[3]

The “Star”

Given that such men studied the stars it would be plausible they would notice any anomaly in the heavens. Some have suggested that it wasn’t a star but perhaps the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (6 B.C.) or a supernova (explosion of a star) that gained the Magi’s attention. While there are considerable scientific explanations none actually satisfy the language of the Scriptures. A conjunction of planets or a supernova would not move, nor would it appear and then reappear as recorded. Nor would the “star” hover over the house where Jesus was born. The more plausible explanation is direct divine intervention – the Shekhinah, or a manifestation of God’s glory, manifested in some form that led the Magi to Bethlehem.

That a “star” would play a significant role in announcing the birth of “the King of the Jews” has prophetic support.

Astrologists believed the stars and seasons influenced the affairs of mankind. Legend holds that “stars” appeared in the heavens with the birth of Alexander the Great and Caesar. It is significant, too, that the Magi announced at their arrival in Jerusalem, “we have seen his star.”

The prophetic answer, however, is found in Numbers 24:17. There we find the Gentile Prophet, Balaam declare, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel...

Jewish authorities declare this passage to be a Messianic prophecy. In 135 A.D. Rebbe Akiva declared Shimon Bar Kosiba to be Bar Kokba, Son of the Star. The Magi were no doubt influenced by the tradition established by Daniel, who became the leader of the Babylonian wise men,[4] and would know of the prophecy by Balaam. And it is plausible they would be familiar with Daniel’s prophecy regarding the timetable set for Messiah’s coming.[5]

A Troubled Jerusalem

Under normal circumstances the announcement of the birth of the King of Israel would be an occasion for great rejoicing. But for Jerusalem times were not normal and when the people of Jerusalem heard the news both Herod and Jerusalem were troubled.

Herod was a jealous and ruthless ruler. When he assumed the throne he had many of Jerusalem’s sages executed. Anyone he sensed as a rival to his throne, even his own family members, became targets for his wrath and executions. His decree that Jerusalem’s sages be executed at his death to insure there would be weeping failed when members of his administration refused to act upon the decree.

The announcement that a rival king had been born would certainly trouble Herod, and given his terrible disposition resulting in the death of innocent people it is understandable why Jerusalem’s populace would be troubled.

Putting on his best face Herod gathered the Priests and Scribes to ascertain what they understood about the birth of Israel’s king. Note that Herod understood the announcement to be Messianic and asked “where the Messiah was to be born.” The Scribes responded by citing the Prophet Micah:

They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”Matthew 2:5-6

Hearing the news of where the Messiah was to be born, Herod summoned the Magi to a private audience and determined when the Magi determined when they actually first saw the Messiah’s star rising in the east. Herod then requested that the Magi return to him and report their findings so that he, too, could pay homage to him. Then the King sent them on their way to Bethlehem.

Once the Magi left Herod’s company and resumed their journey, the “star” reappeared bringing great emotion as they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy,” or, they celebrated excessively. On a high note they continued to follow the “star” leading them and “stood over the place where the Child was.” (vvs. 9-10)

Gifts Fit for a King

The Magi found the young Messiah in Bethlehem in a house now occupied by Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Coming into His presence, they bowed before the King and presented Him gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, each a valuable commodity. Yet, they also held symbolic significance:

  • Frankincense ~ A common Temple spice and a gift for a priest, a bridge-builder.

  • Gold ~ the gift for a King, one that came first to rule in the hearts of men and is coming to rule the Kingdom of God upon the Earth.

  • Myrrh- a spice used in burial practices, a gift for one who was to die.

With gifts in hand, and as they Magi approached the Christ Child, they exemplified true homage and worship. In reverent adoration they fell to the ground and lay prostrate before Jesus. No doubt these men have bowed their head, their knee, or even kissed the hand of lesser men in powerful positions, but none so worthy of the One they lay before proclaiming the majesty and splendor of the Child that was before them.

They Went Home Another Way!

These men from afar were rewarded for their devotion to God’s Son. They were warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod with the news he desired. So, they left for home taking another way. Had they not been recorded in the Gospels, we would never know about the great lengths they made and the expense they were willing to give to the New Born King! Their account is recorded in song:

We three kings of Orient are Bearing gifts we traverse afar. Field and fountain, moor and mountain, Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect Light.[6]

Wise Men Still Seek Him!

Though obscured by flesh and bone and buried beneath sinful behavior, men and women possess a quality that separates them from the rest of created beings. Even the heavenly angels bedecked in their splendor and glory lacks this quality in the spiritual DNA.

When God created the male and the female,[7] the Scriptures reveal He created them Imago Dei – in the image of God. In as much as God is spirit[8] with no corporeal body, this “image” cannot mean God is a physical prototype but suggests that God created man a moral and rational creature will a free will.

Given this nature not only separates him from the animal kingdom and but to serve as God’s steward of earthly resources. Man was placed in God’s Garden, Eden, “to cultivate it and keep it.”[9] His ability to recognize and act accordingly suggests that man has intellect and reasoning capacities superior to the animal kingdom. Animals react out of instinct, but man is able to judge his thoughts and behavior based upon intrinsic value determined by God’s design and desire.

Until sin marred man’s relationship with God, man enjoyed a daily communion with his Creator, able to experience Yahweh ‘Elohiym’s presence. The unfortunate consequence of their disobedience was a disruption in their relationship, and man, like the melting snow on snow-capped mountains striving to return to the open seas, is ever attempting to return to this Creator-Creature relationship in vastly inappropriate manner.

Through the centuries man through their vain imaginations of their self-serving hearts have created gods and fashioned idols in futile attempts to regain that which man once enjoyed in the Garden but lost because of sin. Both their gods and the idols they create, mere projections of their own reasoning and imagination, are pitiful attempts to recapture a relationship with the true and living God, Yahweh ‘Elohiym.

Yet, it wasn’t because man did not behold truth, but as the Scriptures reveal, man has known the truth, but has exchanged the truth for the lie, worshipping the creature rather than the Creator, and eventually rejected any true notion of god, settling for their own devices which continued in the downward spiral of sin and degradation.[10]

Suddenly, God’s superior glory and majesty broke through the darkness and manifest itself in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Like the star leading the Wise Men to the Son of God’s humble abode, the Light of the Gospel arrests men’s hearts leading them out of the darkness of sin and into the glorious light of Jesus Christ.

It is the Heavenly Father who draws the hearts of all to His Son first exalted upon the Cross, then glorified in His resurrection, and all who believe receive redemption, reconciliation and are freed to worship their Creator, the Great I Am.

When the glorious light of the splendor of God shines upon the hearts of men, wise men still seek Him. When we find Him, we can rejoice in that by faith we have sins forgiven and receive eternal life.

“But in their distress they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and they sought Him, and He let them find Him.” 2 Chronicles 15:4

Merry Christmas!!

[1] Greek, magos, μάγος; Aramaic, mag the Aramaic title for a sage, or a student of medicine and natural sciences. [2]William Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature : A Translation and Adaption of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch Zu Den Schrift En Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Ubrigen Urchristlichen Literatur, electronic ed. of the 2nd ed., rev. and augmented. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). 484. [3] Daniel 2:27. “Magicians” in this passage is from the Hebrew chartom (חַרְטֹם); however the Hebrew defines it as engraver, writer, only in deriv. sense of one possessed of occult knowledge, diviner, astrologer, magician (Richard Whitaker, Francis Brown, S.R. (Samuel Rolles) Driver and Charles A. (Charles Augustus) Briggs, The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament : From A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs, Based on the Lexicon of Wilhelm Gesenius (Oak Harbor WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, c1906). 355.1.). [4] Daniel 2:48. [5] Daniel 9:24-27. [6] "We Three Kings", original title "Three Kings of Orient", also known as "We Three Kings of Orient Are" or "The Quest of the Magi", is a Christmas carol that was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr. in 1857 [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Three_Kings] [7] Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So, God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” [8] John 4:24. [9] Genesis 2:15. [10] Romans 1:18-32.

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